I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The object of the debate is not to persuade the Minister that a freeze on settlement building is desirable, as I am sure that that is not necessary. He, and indeed the Foreign Secretary, have repeatedly expressed at the Dispatch Box the Government's view that all building must cease. Indeed, the Prime Minister said this week not only that settlement building must cease but that existing settlements must be dismantled. He said:
"We have consistently called for Israel to dismantle settlements. I spoke to the Knesset only a few months ago and made it absolutely clear that Israel should freeze settlements and withdraw from settlements...We have consistently said, and I have said to successive Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents when I have met them, that we have consistently seen them— the settlements—
"as a barrier to reaching the agreement that everybody thinks is possible".
When I last asked the Foreign Secretary about a freeze on settlement building, he had just returned from a visit to the west bank and could be in no doubt that settlement building was still going on. He had seen the bulldozers and cranes only a few days before, building new houses at Ma'ale Adumim, on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. He mentioned that a hopeful sign had been an announcement the previous weekend by the Israeli Prime Minister that the Government would stop the expansion of settlements. On closer examination of the small print, however, it emerged that the Prime Minister was promising only to stop expanding the boundaries of settlements and that building could continue within them. Since many settlements contain large areas already set aside for further development—Ma'ale Adumim, for instance, has the E1 area, on which it is intended to build 5,000 houses—the promise was pretty empty.
Since the Annapolis agreement, in which the Government of Israel accepted an obligation to
"freeze all settlement activity, including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements", there has actually been an acceleration of house building in settlements in the west bank. Official figures released by the Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing identify current construction projects in nine settlements in the west bank. They range from one of 106 dwellings in Ariel, which is a big Israeli settlement deep in the northern west bank, to one of 144 units at Alfei Menashe, which is a settlement near the Palestinian town of Qalqilya. Some 642 units are currently being constructed in two different settlements in Bethlehem, and 944 units at Ma'ale Adumim, which I have just mentioned. The Foreign Secretary saw the work going on there. Nearly 2,000 units are being built at Har Homa, a hill in Arab East Jerusalem overlooking Bethlehem. That is a total of 4,554 units.